The only company I have on this tour bus is a young couple a few rows back and a cooler packed solid with canned craft beer to my right. “How long is the trip?” I ask Dave, the eco-bus driver while mentally solving complex bladder-math. With no crapper on board, I’m good for roughly 2.5 BPH without rupturing various body parts. “About an hour and a half” he yells into the rear-view. I side-smirk and crack a can of Sunshine Wheat with one hand and adjust my roadboner situation with the other. I’m not sure if the chub is pure excitement for where we’re headed or this relentless ‘pothole highway’ devastated by Colorado floods weeks ago. My beer froths and bubbles from the good vibrations. Eco-Bus = Sybian.
Speaking of random erections, I feel like a kid on the first day of school…although the school in this case is New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, CO. Crushing my second beer, I inhale the crisp-moist air and belch out hop infused steam. Nearby rooftops and fall foliage are still dripping rain from a fresh shower that stopped minutes before our arrival. Above the brewhouse, smoke stacks gush beery scents that meet the low lying black clouds. Such a beautiful scene.
Here for a VIP event, this is basically a chance for small touristy brewers and media here for GABF to get a proper look at America’s third largest craft brewery. Having been to #1 and #2 in the past year, I’m more than intrigued to see New Belgium’s operation. Walking around, I huff the air even deeper; I can’t recall the last time I took in a fresh lungload of fresh air. I could get used to this!
New Belgium’s brewery is what I imagine the Lego factory to look like when I was a kid. It’s woodsy and shapely like a Frank Lloyd Wright house and is surrounded by lush flowers and trees. Light pours through movie-screen sized windows into the brewhouse. Fat-Tired bicycles literally litter the landscape, both inside and out.
For this event and tour, there’s a white tent in the front parking lot with a few food trucks, a great selection of free beer and festive folk and bluegrass music. I get a full pour of New Belgium’s Kriek, a ruby colored beer with cherry pie notes chased with subtle hints of vinegar. Jeff, our tour guide, is a relaxed version of Jeff Bridges; “Welcome to the tour” he says with a smile almost meeting his lengthy sideburns.
Arse over tit, we start the tour with the infamous spiral slide. Normally the last stop on the tour, we opt to start with it because we’re nutty. My playground instincts kick in and I run to be first. On a rainy day, it’s somewhat of a carpet-burn endeavor, but I’m still happy to be birthed down its curly plume. Every employer should have a slide and copious amount of beer on hand.
Every brewhouse tells a unique story and New Belgium is no different. The most common theme is that of expansion. New Belgium is segmented into two main brewhouses. Brewhouse one (BH1), the original brewery, reached capacity and was doubled by adding BH2 in 2002. The 200 barrel brewhouse is cooking around the clock by a small team of plaid-wearing brewers of various beard lengths.
The other story is environment. The employee-owned company voted to pay a higher premium for wind-power in 2008 and hasn’t looked back. Wind, along with solar and reclaimed gasses make up most of the power needed for all operations at the fifty acre property in Fort Collins, CO. The culture seems infectious as many employees commute to work via bicycles.
The beer samples offered on the tour thus far take the brewhouse story a step further: proof. Their full line up of beautiful and interesting Lips of Faith Series beers, solid ‘pays the bills’ beers, interesting throwback ‘Folly’ beers and hopped up ‘Hop Kitchen” beers. At every stop on the tour, glasses are kept fresh with whatever strikes your interest.
Midway through the tour among a foeder farm, we sample the un-soured base beer of La Folie next to the two year old sour version. Not only has the flavor and aroma changed considerably, the color went from Michael Jackson ‘Off the Wall’ skin tone to Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ skin tone. I never thought aging beer would affect the color so much! This is fascinating stuff…and tasty too. La Folie hits the nose like a freshly opened bag of sweet tarts; notes of cherry, green apple and hint of oak. The flavor forces a smile and an eye-roll for good measure. Goosebumps? Yep.Pretty much. Beautiful beer.
Along the tour, I’m happy to see New Belgium doesn’t stop the fun with the spiral slide. Among the foeder farm? A rock climbing wall. In the bustling bottling/canning line? Shuffle board. Outdoors? Sand volleyball court. What a great culture of beer and fun. The tour is concluded with pulling a fresh Shift off the canning line. Nothing is more fun than that! ~Cheers